Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 1st January 2023
Dear Friends, As with so many good stories, the story of Jesus’s birth exists in many different versions. Luke’s Gospel has shepherds and angels, and Matthew’s has wise men, a … Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 1st January 2023
As with so many good stories, the story of Jesus’s birth exists in many different versions. Luke’s Gospel has shepherds and angels, and Matthew’s has wise men, a star, and King Herod.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across another version, in a text that didn’t make it into the canon of Christian scripture.
The Protoevangelium of James was written in about the middle of the second century. Even though it’s not part of the New Testament, its account of Mary’s childhood and of the nativity has been very influential. For instance, the detail that Mary was carried to Bethlehem on a donkey comes from the Protoevangelium, not the Gospels.
The book describes Joseph leaving Mary in a cave (not a stable) at the point when she is near to giving birth, and then going to look for a midwife. At this point the narrative switches to the first person. And something extraordinary happens.
Now I, Joseph, was walking, and yet I did not walk, and I looked up to the air, and saw the air in amazement. And I looked up at the vault of heaven, and saw it standing still, and the birds of the heaven motionless. And I looked down at the earth, and saw a dish placed there and workmen reclining, and their hands were in the dish. But those who chewed did not chew, and those who lifted up did not lift, and those who put something to their mouth put nothing to their mouth, but everybody looked upwards. And behold, sheep were being driven and they did not come forward but stood still; and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them with his staff but his hand remained upright. And I looked at the flow of the river, and saw the mouths of the kids over it and they did not drink. And then suddenly everything went on in its course.
(Protoevangelium 18.2, translated in Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament)
What is its source, this image of a turning-point where for a moment the whole world stands still? I would guess that it arose from a deep place in the author’s heart and imagination – the same place from which ministry can sometimes arise in Meeting for Worship.
Certainly, it’s an image that has remained vivid for me, ever since I first came across it. If I was a composer, I would want to turn it into music. Instead, I’m sharing it here, in case it speaks to you too.
On behalf of the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (Bob Harwood, David Hitchin, Chris Lawson, Tim Pitt-Payne, Theresa Samms, Nancy Wall)